Few things make women feel more insecure than wondering whether they smell fresh down there, especially as a guy is about to give pleasure of the oral variety. As he wanders south, it’s one thing to realize that you haven’t gotten a wax in a while—something the guy you’re with isn’t likely to notice in the dark. But if you’re feeling vulnerable and stressing about whether you’re emitting a funky odor, you can pretty much bet that the mood is ruined.
The sad fact is that so many women are self-conscious about their vaginal scent when there’s really nothing to be embarrassed about. “I think women have unrealistic expectations about their scent that are similar to the unrealistic expectations we have about body size,” says Sara Gottfried, M.D., founder and medical director of The Gottfried Center for Integrative Medicine in Oakland, Calif., and author of “The Hormone Cure.” “There’s so much shame around the normal range of what women smell like. I think of the advances we’ve made with women’s rights and the benefits we’ve had from the women’s movement, but we’re also still stuck with this mindset that women are expected to be nice, pretty and for their lady parts to smell really good, like some fake scent. Like you’re going to smell like a gardenia. And that’s just going to make you miserable because that’s not the normal human scent.”
The thing is, vaginas aren’t supposed to smell like fragrant flowers—despite the plethora of products marketed to women that may convince you that the scent of a rose garden should be wafting from your private parts at all times. On the other hand, vaginas aren’t supposed to smell “fishy” either—that mean barb that boys lob at girls to make them feel bad in junior high school.
What’s normal appears to be somewhere in between those two extremes. Some women have no vaginal scent whatsoever, while others have a slight scent that isn’t unpleasant. What’s more, your scent can change over the course of the month. The key is to know what’s normal for you—so you’ll know there’s nothing to worry about, as well as when there’s a health problem at play.
What Influences Your Scent
Everything from having sex and working out to where you are in your menstrual cycle can influence your below-the-belt aroma.
“There are certain times during the menstrual cycle when you are more likely to have a change in the scent,” notes Dr. Gottfried. “Many women notice after having their periods that there is a different odor. That scent relates to the pH in the vagina.”
Normally, the pH of the vagina is below 4.7—that means it’s naturally on the acidic side of the scale. But when you have your period or have sex, that alters your vaginal pH. For example, menstrual blood has a pH of 7.4, according to Gottfried, which is basic, so it causes your vaginal pH to rise and become less acidic. “That can also give you a change of scent that can make it smell a little fishy,” she says. “Also, when air hits menstrual blood, it has a particular scent to it.”
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